LOS ANGELES – Colorado forward Ryan O’Reilly was soaked in sweat and disappointment following Colorado’s 3-1 loss at the Kings on Saturday. His beard, his long hair, drenched in dread after another loss – the first after the Avalanche was eliminated from the playoffs earlier that afternoon.
This one clearly stung slightly more as he discarded his equipment into his travel bag.
O’Reilly was clearly not pleased. Not in the way the season had gone, and certainly not in how the Avalanche had missed the playoff for the first time under Patrick Roy’s two-year tenure.
“We tried to do the same things we did last year, and I feel like all the best teams that consistently find ways to win, they continually adapt,” O’Reilly said. “They constantly make changes, finding new ways to win, and it took us a while to find that.”
There have been few coaches in the NHL whose system has been poked and prodded like Roy. The legendary goaltender famously doesn’t believe in ‘Fancy Stats’. He shoots from the gut. There’s more emotion than science in how Roy coaches.
And the sentiments that carried Roy through a surprise 2013-14, when his Avalanche won the Central Division, failed him in some ways this year, though there were other factors.
Injuries? They definitely played a role, especially when you lose three of your best players to injury (goaltender Semyon Varlamov, forward Nathan MacKinnon and All-Star defenseman Erik Johnson at different points). Some mediocre personnel decisions? Daniel Briere didn’t quite equate to Paul Stastny. But when pressed to go deeper, O’Reilly saw a lack of adaptation by the Avs.
“It’s all sorts of things, whether it’s getting into games thinking we’re going to score more goals, because last year we did that, we scored goals all the time,” he said. “We buried our chances and Varly was phenomenal, but this year, we’re not scoring and we still tried to play that same way and we gave up too much defensively. You have to find new ways, you have to reinvent yourself every year.”
O’Reilly’s battles with the Avalanche management are pretty well known, with his holdout and offer sheet situation two years ago. So maybe there’s a little resentment overall. Also, each coach has his own ‘style’ and Roy’s has worked. In his 10 years as a coach, between the Quebec Remparts and Avalanche, this will be his first without making the playoffs. Plus, one must marvel at the fact that he is the only North American coach to ever get through to Alexander Radulov when the latter was a star sniper with Quebec.
But this year the Roy experiment was slightly uneven, and difficult to read. The Avalanche was again poor from an advanced stat perspective. Colorado’s 5-on-5 CF% according to Puckalytics ranked 29th at 43.4. A year ago it was 26th at 46.9 percent. But Colorado also had a litany of injuries to key players, which clearly doesn’t help your team’s overall proficiency. Colorado entered its Saturday game against Los Angeles with 462 man-games lost to injury according to the team’s official website. That’s a staggering number and second to the Columbus Blue Jackets to man-games lost this season according to Man Games Lost.
“Injuries are something everybody goes through and nobody wants to use it as an excuse,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “Last year was one of those things and one of those years that we didn’t really have to do deal with it. We had a couple here and there, but this year it has been one key piece after another.”
And the injuries compounded a bad start. Colorado didn’t move over .500 until Jan. 8. The Avs started the year going 1-4-2. MacKinnon didn’t score his first goal until Oct. 30 and had a mega sophomore slump with 38 points in 64 games.
And all the pieces are in place, with Colorado’s core locked up for at least next year. So should we just chalk it up to a bad season? Is this more endemic of Roy as a coach? Regardless of Roy’s lightning-rod type personality, this team is going to be fine, and it will be OK with him as a coach. It’s too talented, and about to hit that right age where it has a good mix of vets and youth to sustain success. He believes it, and his reasoning is sound and convincing.
“I think we’re going to benefit from this season,” Roy said. “I mean, I think it’s a young group and I think we’re learning a lot. And I look at … I always said in Denver, it was a process for our team and obviously we always want to go faster in the process, but unfortunately it’s otherwise. I think we’re learning and I think today I really believe it will be beneficial to this team, what’s going on this year, and I think we’re going to learn a lot from it and in my opinion we’ll be very different in training camp.”
The advanced stats argument with Roy would make sense, if he didn’t win everywhere he coached. There has to be more to him as a motivator and a button-pusher than someone who doesn’t totally subscribe to puck possession. But those numbers are so bad, that maybe there does need to be some sort of stylistic change for Roy Year Three to have more success.
If Year One, Roy got an A, Year Two was more a C+. How will we look at Year Three?
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